IF Comp 2014: Begscape

begscapeBegscape, by Porpentine, is a very small Twine piece about homelessness and panhandling.

You’re a beggar in a high-fantasy world, begging from town to town. Each town is randomly generated, most importantly in how much food and shelter costs. Over the course of the day, you beg for gold (a single option): if you can’t afford shelter by the day’s end, you lose health. Your only real choice is to remain in a town or move on to the next one – though if you stick around too long in one place the locals will get sick of you and force you to move on. There’s no progress, no escape: at some point, probably sooner than later, randomness and attrition will catch up to you, and you’ll face an unpleasant death.

I find generated text hilarious.

Eruooo is a port of green clay and ebony thatch. There are many sewers and assassinations.

One of the things about generated text is that it tends to produce an effect of all-the-sameness. Even when it generates something fortuitously beautiful or intriguing, the sense prevails that the viewpoint character is indifferent to that specific circumstance, that it’s just irrelevant flavour. So, too, the people whom you’re begging from: they might be half-harpy heretics or mutant weepers, but all that you actually care about is money or not-money. There is a strange compelling world out there, but you don’t get to play with any of it.

My first thought about this was: actual begging and homelessness is surely a vastly more complicated thing than is shown here. Begscape offers no different approaches to begging, no information to acquire, no possessions other than gold. The many axes of well-being are condensed into a single health stat. Other homeless people are either absent or melded into the generalised threat of Everyone Else.

But, okay, I think that’s kind of missing the point. High-failure simulation has a substantial power to deflate fantasy, and this is a well-explored conceit; the difference is that almost everything in that category is substantially more detailed. This is a game about the stark reduction of options down to a grim certainty. In a more complicated simulation, you might suspect that there was a success condition in there somewhere, if you could just tweak the dials right; here, much of the point is that you damn well know that ain’t happening.

The myth of the power curve is one of the biggest things that games sell: the opportunity to inhabit a world in which, by patient effort and perhaps a little skill, you can steadily rise from the most humble beginnings to become wealthy, powerful and famous, no luck or advantages required. And one of the normal elements of doing this is grind: you do something repetitive and boring without much immediate choice, because you know it guarantees small, steady advancement towards new opportunities. Grind’s pretty fucking depressing even when it leads to inevitable success. When it leads to inevitable failure… it’s not that much more depressing, honestly, because this is a game and you don’t have much incentive to stick at it.

Small point adroitly made: still a bagatelle.

Score: 5


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